First, the Tomb


Diana Trautwein -First the Tomb3

The rain falls steadily, beating against the translucent plastic of the skylight across the hall from where I write. It’s a drumbeat that reminds me that fruitfulness requires dark, wet days. Lots and lots of dark, wet days.

Life continues to teach me that there is no resurrection without the darkness of death; there is no rising without first being down. Sometimes that down-ness is imposed on us—by life, by circumstance, by some kind of struggle, which we did not deserve or earn. Other times, we trip and fall, choosing unwisely or forgetting what we know to be true. No matter what has brought us low, however, the truth of it remains: there is nowhere to go but up.

I am watching closely as my mother winds down for the last time in her long life. We moved her this week—again. Fifteen years ago, we moved her and my dad from their lovely retirement home in Orange County, California to a smaller, two-bedroom apartment in a senior community nearer to family. Three years later, after my dad’s death, we moved my mother to a one-bedroom unit in the same facility. Eight years after that, we moved her across the street, into an assisted living studio. One year later, we moved her 120 miles north, to a single room with bath, inside a dementia unit, minutes from our home.

Now, four years further down this journey toward death, she is in a still smaller room, one with a hospital bed and an RN down the hall. We moved mama into skilled nursing last week, sorting through the debris of her life one more time, parsing her existence into smaller and smaller pieces.

I hoped she would be oblivious to this change. So much of her cognition is gone, so many pieces missing from the beautiful puzzle that is my mother. But she knew. And she was frightened and confused, wondering why “her family” wasn’t nearby. Though she couldn’t tell you a single name, she somehow knew the residents and the caregivers in her 16-bed assisted living wing. Now she is part of a much larger space, with many more people, many more wheelchairs, longer distances to travel from bedroom to activity center to dining room.

It will take some serious getting-used-to, for both of us. After four years, I know most of the CNAs by name in Heritage Court. I know no one in Smith Center. I knew many of the residents in her hallway; I know only a handful in this larger-yet-smaller space. The simple act of going out to lunch is complicated because we’re further away from the parking lot. There is no space in her new room for a second chair, so visiting with her is more awkward, less comfortable.

She is still going down, still falling. And this time, this final time, I will not “see” her rising, at least in the physical sense. But, oh! I know she will rise.

Why do I know this? Because of what I believe and because of what my eyes tell me right now.

It’s a curious thing to be an aging woman with a still-living aging parent. Mom is 24 years ahead of me on this journey to the grave, and even in her increasing frailty, she is still my teacher, my example. Yes, I am doing the care-taking now. My brother and I pay the bills, I make the doctor’s and dentist’s appointments, try to bring a tiny bit of levity and light to her increasingly dark world. She cannot see well, she cannot hear well, she cannot think well. But she is still my mama and she can still surprise me.

“You are hastening my death!” she said to me in her anxiety, as I gently (and S L O W L Y) walked her from her former space to her new one. She may well be right, but who knows? That anxious sentence came in the midst of the walk, the change, the unfamiliarity. But less than an hour later, sitting in the “new” dining room, she looked around and exclaimed, “Why, this is a beautiful room! And the food is good, too!”

She rises, you see.

Yes, she rises. Right to the end, and beyond …